Mental illness caused MUN student to attempt murder on Signal Hill in St. John’s, judge says — (The Telegram)

SSRI Ed note: Intelligent engineering student takes antidepressants, tries to jump off cliff with friend, gets 4 years for attempted murder. Judge blames mental illness.

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The Telegram

However, the judge handed down a four-year sentence after disagreeing with the defence argument the accused had displayed no sign of a committed effort to kill.

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Medical advice to stop taking antidepressants and “go for walks and enjoy nature” may not have been the best course of depression treatment for a Memorial University student who later attempted a murder-suicide on Signal Hill, a St. John’s judge said Thursday.The engineering student was suffering from the effects of mental illness when he devised a plan to kill himself and a friend in April 2017, Justice Vikas Khaladkar ruled.

“I believe that he would not have committed these acts but for the effects of the mental illness he was experiencing,” the judge said while sentencing the man to four years in jail in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court.

Khaladkar described the student as intelligent with a good work ethic, saying he had no doubt the man would one day complete the engineering doctorate he had come to the province to complete and would once again become a productive member of society.

To that end, Khaladkar sentenced the man to the four-year jail term. Were it not for the fact that the man will be deported once he serves his prison sentence, he would have earned five years, the judge said.

“A reasonable person strolling along the St. John’s harbourfront promenade might ask, ‘Why are we, as a society paying to house this person in prison at substantial cost when he could be sent back to his country of origin at a substantially reduced cost?’,” Khaladkar said. The answer, he explained, is while a judge can take collateral consequences like deportation into account, their sentencing decision must be proportionate to the seriousness of the crime and the offender’s degree of responsibility and can’t be crafted in such a way as to impact immigration procedures.

In any case, a jail sentence would be of “trifling consequence” to the harm the student has already done to himself and his future, the judge noted.

There’s a publication ban protecting the names of the accused and the victim, who had both come from Iran to study at MUN. The man lured his friend to Signal Hill on the pretense of going skiing, and, while standing on the edge of a cliff, grabbed him and attempted to throw them both over the side. They landed on the slope about 15 feet down, caught in brush.

The victim, who told the court he hadn’t wanted the man charged, testified he didn’t believe his friend was a murderer. He instead thought the accused had wanted someone to be with him as he took his own life.

The accused told the court he hadn’t tried to kill anyone and had slipped on the ice after putting his hand on his friend’s shoulder, sending them both tumbling.

The court heard the accused had been severely depressed at the time and had been advised by his doctor to spend time in nature.

Khaladkar disagreed with the defence’s argument that the man had displayed no sign of a sustained, committed effort to kill. He pointed to the man’s ruse involving skiing and a text message exchange with his brother in which he spoke of thinking about a murder-suicide. The judge also pointed out the man had texted his brother, who was expected to arrive in St. John’s the day of the incident, with instructions on what to do if he was not at the airport to meet him.

Defence lawyer Mark Gruchy argued for a jail term of two to three years for his client; prosecutor Mike Murray submitted a six-year jail sentence was appropriate.

Khaladkar gave the man credit for 243 days time served, leaving him with just over three years left on his four-year sentence.

Gruchy indicated his client will be appealing his conviction.

Tara Bradbury reports on justice and the courts in St. John’s.